Thursday, 19 January 2012

Just a Brief Visit

It's around eleven in the morning and we're bouncing along a rough dirt road, out in the wilds somewhere north of Kalathos. I'm taking it steady on account my my ball joints. Now now, none of that if you please, I meant the car! We're on our way to visit our fairly new friend Evgenni'a, who's not far short of our age but suffers from extremely poor health. Her heart is so fragile that the doctor has advised her not to go out - ever! It's like paper she told us, like the heart of a 90 year-old. On top of that she has diabetes and her kidneys are only operating at around 50% efficiency. It's people like Evgenni'a that make us appreciate what we have, both health-wise and in other ways.

We've never met her husband Theo'doro, so we're wondering whether he'll be at home today. We've no idea what to expect really, but we'll soon find out. The lane is fairly level and passes through huge olive groves, trees framing our view in both directions along part of the way. Jays flit from tree to tree, occasionally swooping low across the lane ahead of us. Now and again the olive groves drop away, being replaced by the usual scrub and maquis and we see Stonechats sitting atop shrubs and bushes (we're not far from the coast, close to which Stonechats seem to prefer living, as in the UK). Robins and Black Redstarts bob up and down on fence posts and everywhere is bathed in brilliant sunshine as the sky is cloud free. This is more like it.

Mind you, we're still experiencing the coldest Rhodean winter for decades. Just two days ago I went to the local Dimos to pay the water bill, popped into my local service station to take out a mortgage on some fuel for the car and also paid a visit to Pandeli's DIY store for a couple of odds and ends. In each location I heard the very same comment: 

"It's never been so cold for so long in living memory!" Usually we drop below 10ºC three of four times during a Rhodean winter - usually for perhaps three or four nights on the trot - before the night-time temperatures rise again to their usual 11-15ºC. In daylight, if it's sunny we usually enjoy 20-23ºC and, if it's cloudy, 13-17º. This winter we've now had about two months of single figures (ºC) overnight and, even when it's been sunny, only 13-17 during the day. Mind you, if you're sitting in the sunshine on your terrace, as we were with our guests Trevor & Gloria last Tuesday afternoon, you can still enjoy an al fresco lunch and feel too hot in the sun. So I don't suppose I ought to be complaining really.

Anyway, we're driving along this pot-holed track to Evgennia's house and we see signs of the recent rain in the huge puddles which punctuate the lane. Some of them are so established-looking that we half expect there to be a few ducks paddling about on them. We just manage to skirt them without the car getting stuck in the mud alongside. Eventually we round a bit of a bend and the house comes into view. Unusually for Greeks they don't live in a village. Their house, which is still a long way from being finished (what's new eh?) is alone and only metres away from a huge stretch of deserted beach, even in summer. Nice, but very exposed to the wind, which today is the kind that cuts through you if you're not wrapped up enough.

Evgenni'a is at the door to greet us and waves us inside with despatch. Despite the strong sunshine it's too chilly to hang around on the doorstep. Hugs and double-cheeked kisses take place inside a closed kitchen door, in the warmth of her kitchen. A man is talking animatedly into his mobile phone. Evgenni'a tells us that this is Theo'doros, her husband. Once he finishes his conversation we exchange greetings and he sets about making us hot coffee in the way that so many Greeks still do, using their Briki! You know, it's that little long-handled saucepan which is normally used for making Cafe Elleniko. This, of course, means that for four cups of coffee to eventually arrive at the table the ritual of filling the briki, placing it on the gas and waiting for it to boil has to be followed four times. No, I'm afraid that many Greeks, however modern an impression they may give one, still haven't come to trust that cunning new invention - the kettle.

The conversation begins in earnest and we learn that their families originated on Symi, although both were born here on Rhodes. We tell them of our two decade-long love affair with their island of origin and we're delighted to learn that they even know Sotiri, who runs our favourite taverna there, Taverna O Meraklis. The usual subjects are then covered, starting with the church and the antics of your regular Greek Orthodox Priest, the "papas". Theo'doros tells us of a bloke he knows who used to hire sunbeds on Tsambika Beach and packed it in to become a priest because the pay was better. Talk about a spiritual vocation.

Then we tackle poverty and how people are coping with the current financial crisis. Theo'doros tells us that many decades ago, on Symi (and doubtless elsewhere in Greece) at Christmas time the entire village would contribute food stuffs to the priest, who would make the donated provender up into packages and, during the night hours of December 23rd, volunteers would prowl the village streets, playing knockout ginger at the houses of those known to be very poor. The occupants of these homes would answer the door to find no one there, but a package would be on their doorstep, within which was bread, cheese, olives, meat and other stuff to help them survive a while longer. They, of course, had no idea who had shown them this kindness.

"That," asserts Theo'doros, to our nods of agreement, "is what I call giving. Didn't Jesus himself say: 'In matters of giving, don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing?' These days," he goes on, "people like to shout about what they're doing for those less fortunate than themselves. Although, for the most part our politicians and our priests are far more interested in what goes into their own pockets than in what goes to help others. I despair of the lot of them I really do." Again, he witnesses our nods of agreement.

The conversation carries on for an hour and a half or so and we then rise to bid them goodbye. Evgenni'a, as always, begs us to stay a while longer. She doesn't get many visitors. So we assure her that we won't leave it so long before the next visit. Having learned that Theo'doros is owed 3,500 Euros from his previous employer (not an unusual situation here, sadly) and that he is without work at present [he's a skilled Parkay floor layer as well as carpet fitter. In fact all things "floor" are his field of expertise], we decide that the next visit we shall bring a few things along. Maybe some bread, milk and stuff. Before we can leave though, we exchange the required hugs and double-cheek kisses once again and Evgenni'a opens a kitchen cupboard and pulls out two polythene bags of preserved black olives, which she insists we must take with us.

You can't refuse such simple expressions of kindness. See, there are those who shout loudly about what they perceive to be the "unforgivable" traits exhibited by some Greeks (please note the word "some"), like the penchant for laying poison wantonly around the countryside, but the culture of gift-giving to your guests is a huge saving grace in my book. One of many in fact.


  1. hi John.That Tuesday night, when we met it snowed @ Profit Illias
    Hard to belive when we had enjoyed lunch on your patio

  2. It's so lovely to read your posts, John. The delight you find in the natural world around you and the way you describe your Rhodean friends and acquaintances is so charming. I always picture you smiling as you write..........because you love it all so much. Thank you for bringing your world to life for us. But did you check the log pile after Trevor and Gloria's visit?!

    1. Didn't notice any bulges in their pockets...

    2. It's the little things that people say that fascinate me and I like to think they'd do the same for the reader, which is why I like to transmit them to you, thanks again for your kind words, makes it worthwhile!